Savvy Watering Tips!
Drip versus hand – I favor hand watering for two reasons. Well, make that 3. I like to hand water! I love it when a hummer swoops in for a mid-flight bath or a mini drink, flashing its beauty right on me! Hand watering puts me in a meditative, contemplative, observant state, that connects me with my plants, all my plants, not just the ones I happen to be working with that day. I see what needs doing next. If you squat down and get close to the ground, you see your soil, how it’s doing. I find in my fast-moving veggie garden, babies tucked here and there, plants finishing here, everybody needs different amounts of water. In our 10′ X 20’ plots at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, religious row planting is not what happens most of the time. There just isn’t room. Maybe not all the seeds in a row germinate. A gardener gives you a couple extra plants they had and you can’t resist and pop them in there! Already, there is modification, biodiversity, different watering needs.
Overhead vs underneath – Fuzzy plants don’t like wet leaves, they can’t breathe nor regulate their temperatures properly. Nor herbs. Wet leaves for many plants, especially beans and cukes, brings on the mildew when the temps get right. If you can’t wean yourself from overhead watering, plant less, allow more air circulation. Make it easy on yourself. Get a low flow watering wand, like the nurseries use, that will put a lot of water where you want it without damaging your plants. They are great for containers and hanging plants too! Or if you don’t want to stand there, get one of those bubblers that gently disperse the water as the bubbler lies on the ground. Then you can go do other things and not worry about what the water is doing.
Save water! Plant water lovers in the bottoms of furrows or in basins so their roots remain moist longer. And basins are great for keeping the water where it’s needed if your soil slopes. Plant soil fungus sensitive plants on the tops of slightly flattened furrow hills. That lets the soil drain and dry and the fungus die or be less. Make a mound rather than a basin.
Underwatering, the water just runs off or pools…. Not an uncommon happening mid to late summer. Salts accumulate binding the soil surface, preventing water absorption. Flush the salts away by watering deeeeeeply for a good 45 minutes to disperse them. Incorporate some water holding compost, or some of that great soil booster stuff that has everything in it! Lay on some mulch except around plants that really need it hot, like peppers, melons, eggplant if you are in a cool coastal area. To be sure things are good, poke your finger in the ground AFTER you water. You will be amazed how the watering you did may not have wet more than a 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep. Your plants’ roots are deeper than that. They can be dying of thirst when things look prettily wet. Pay attention when it’s more hot than usual or windy. Sometimes watering twice, even 3 times a day is called for on specially hot days.
Though mulching keeps soil moist longer and saves water, don’t cool down your heat lover plants with mulches. Plants that barely get enough heat in our coastal area are peppers, eggplant, winter squashes, and melons. Let ‘em get hot and stay hot!
Overwatering? You need only 12” deep max, not 18” or 24”! Do the finger test – poke into the ground and see if the top 2” are still moist. If so, let the watering go another day or two. Plants can actually drown. If you water so much the oxygen is displaced, your plant drowns. A chard plant defends itself from heat by drooping midday. Check the soil. It probably doesn’t need water!
Water in the AMs so plants dry off during the day. Foil the mildews, keep habitat drier than slugs and snails, who come out at night, like. Water in the AMs so your heat lovers get a chance to drain and dry and the soil get good and warm, even hot, during the day and stays warmer at night. Especially do that with humidity lovers like eggplant.
Seedlings, need to be kept moist until well established. Their tiny shallow roots can only take up so much water, so they need frequency rather than deep. Newly planted seeds need to be kept moist; water gently with a watering can so they aren’t uncovered or buried too deep.
Self watering systems – If you are a container gardener, you have the advantage of choosing self watering systems! DIY versions are so easy to make! Inverted bottles are cheap and easy. Vermiculite and a perimeter of holes just above its level! It costs little and pays off if you can’t be around a lot or have a windy balcony or are rooftop planting. Glass watering globes are pretty.
The ultimate is doing rain capture and/or a grey water system! Not only are you planting your own food, eating the fresh best, and saving those food miles, but you are sustainably managing your water, and at times, improving our water table! Yes!
Take advantage of the City of Santa Barbara Water Wise Program! SaveWaterSB.org, call 805-564-5460
- Rebates are available on water-wise plants, irrigation equipment, graywater systems, mulch, clothes washers and more!
- Free rain shut-off sensors are available
- Use the landscape watering calculator and watering index on their site
- Receive a free water check-up for your home or business!